Backers of Washington anti-trap bill face allegations

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Animal-Rights Group Faces Campaign Finance Allegations.

FOX News/AP

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The state's campaign-watchdog agency delayed action Thursday on a complaint against the backers of last year's successful anti-trapping initiative.


The commission's staff has accused Protect Our Pets and Wildlife of illegally failing to report a major purchase of television advertising time a few weeks before the election.

But a dispute over when the campaign was obligated to pay for the time so troubled Public Disclosure Commission Chairwoman Christine Yorozu that she delayed any decision until Nov. 1 so she could hear more testimony.

"I'm just not sure I know what to do," Yorozu said.

Washington law requires campaigns to disclose their spending at regular intervals. Among other things, disclosure reports give election opponents and others some insight into campaign strategy. For example, big spending on television time indicates an impending advertising blitz.

The campaign reported a single $535,205 expenditure for television time in its Oct. 26 report to the Public Disclosure Commission.

The commission's staff contends the purchases should have been reported in detail on Oct. 17 because the campaign ordered the time earlier in the month and became obligated to pay for it two weeks before the ads were aired.

"There should have been an orders-placed report," said Phil Stutzman, the commission's chief of enforcement. "In fact, they weren't reported until Nov. 3, which was just a few days before the election."

The ads ran in the crucial final stage of the campaign -- late October and early November.

But anti-trapping officials contend there was no obligation to pay the stations until the campaign began cutting checks on Oct. 18.

"An expenditure has not been made, and no obligation is incurred by merely offering to purchase media time," media consultant Peter Fenn of Fenn & King Communications in Washington, D.C., wrote in an affidavit to the commission.

Ed Owens, chairman of Citizens for Responsible Wildlife Management, the main opponents of Initiative 713, said all campaigns in Washington operate under the two-week rule.

Owens, who filed the original complaint with the commission, said the late disclosure of the advertising buy left his campaign at a disadvantage.

"You can pretty much tell what their placement strategy is by where they're buying time," said Owens. Without that information, the opposition campaign was unprepared to counter the advertising. "If you have that information you can make those kinds of decisions as a campaign."

But the commission staff offered no concrete evidence that the campaign or Fenn & King knew about the policy and willfully failed to report the purchase. That prompted Yorozu to delay her decision until the commission could question Fenn.
 

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